Consumer trust in brands is at an all time low. Research from Young & Rubicam and Edelman has identified a major decline in trust over the last 20 years.
Ordinary people are rejecting the idea of passive consumption of corporate messages through advertising, and taking back control. They are challenging the ethics of brands, rebelling against perceived or real corporate bad behaviour and voting with their wallets to effect change.
In this post, I’ll look at what is causing this shift in power from brand to consumer, and why brands need to work with consumers to discover the full potential of their marketing efforts.
What’s driving this shift in power?
Globalisation, the proliferation of high-speed internet connectivity and the advent of social media have all helped to nurture an environment in which consumer activism can flourish. They’ve created a world where companies are publically held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof.
In the past, corporations were moderated by trade bodies, unions and the media. Today each and every one of us can, and will, out firms whose behaviour we don’t feel comfortable with.
Online communities – platforms such as Reddit, social media sites or those built by the brand itself – give people a forum to discuss and debate brands.
We compare their actions against their promises on environmental policies to product claims or customer service, and share stories of our own unique experiences, positive and negative. This act in itself is not new, people have always voiced opinions.
But the connected world has enabled individual opinion to be broadcast and shared at scale, representing a seismic shift in control from brand owner to consumer; a potentially terrifying prospect for companies.
Unless that is, they choose to embrace it.
It’s time for big brands to relinquish control
If brands loosen the reigns a little, the outspoken consumer represents a huge opportunity, an additional channel through which to share the brands story and a hugely influential voice amongst their own peers.
They’ll be the honest and constructive critic, who’ll waste no time sugar coating feedback on a company’s short fallings or suggestions for improvements to products. And all at that utterly important word – scale.
This is a new age of consumer activism – one that really can change businesses for the better.
If you can’t beat them (and you won’t) then join them
To earn the trust of the consumer activist (or everyday influencer or co-marketer, select the designation at your discretion) brands must be on the ground next to them, communicating at eye level.
Honesty, transparency and two-way dialogue are crucial. When brands act with integrity, consumers respond with their loyalty
Consumers want to be involved in the decision making process. For organisations this means listening to the insight they share and acting on it. It means inviting them to invest time in co-creating products, services or even brands.
One study, by Vision Critical, revealed that 71% of respondents “would love to participate in developing new product ideas” for their favourite brands. Seventy-two percent of them said that they’d support brands that showed that they listened to their feedback – so give recognition.
It also means giving consumer activists the inside track. Making sure they have access to the facts so that when they turn to online platforms to share their opinions – which they will – the message they spread and the awareness this generates, will be infinitely positive.
Given that 79% of consumers trust recommendations from peers over every other form of advertising and that word of mouth drives five times (up to 100x) more sales than a paid media impression, there is a very strong business case for doing so.
The consumer’s focus on brand ethics and behaviour won’t diminish. We’ve found our voices now.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of traditional one-way communication, the rise of the consumer activist is breeding new life into the way companies market to their consumers.
What’s to be seen is whether big brands will continue to see this as a threat, or harness the opportunity to collaborate with the everyday activists to build a brand fit for the future.
Rebekah Mackay Miller, MD UK trnd
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